"It's a race against time," says O'Dell, whose mom Betty, 74, was diagnosed last November with the disease, known as ALS, and has since lost the ability to speak. "Right now, there is no cure. All you can do is try to treat the symptoms and stay ahead of the disease. Fortunately, there is medical equipment available out there which helps dramatically slow down the effects of the disease and great doctors and organizations like MDA to help guide you through it all."
O'Dell says she's decided to open up about her mother's struggle in order to bring awareness and funding for ALS research.
"I've reached a point where I feel that maybe I can discuss it without breaking down in tears," says the 42-year-old. "It's been tough doing the show and trying to be happy and bright. My makeup artist has had to perform magic. But I'm ready to go public so that, in the future, other families hopefully won't have to go through what we are going through right now."
According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, ALS (amoytrophic lateral sclerosis) is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement.
The Fight of Her Life"It's a rapidly progressive disease," says O'Dell, "but my family, my mom and I are going to fight that with everything we can. With ALS, your mental capacity is fully intact while you become paralyzed within your body. Fortunately, my mom is still very mobile, so we count our blessings every day for that and she can still communicate through writing. ALS affects the muscles which allow you to breathe, so I feel like I'm in a race to do anything and everything we can to help her."
One of the ways O'Dell is beginning her initiative is by joining with Pure & Natural, which is making a donation to MDA-ALS in honor of her mother. She also plans to team up with MDA-ALS for ALS Awareness Month in May.
"It's the most difficult thing I've ever been through," she says. "My mom and I are so incredibly close, and this has been simply devastating. She is one of the most loving, incredible and giving people on this earth, so I want to be able to give her a cure – and that is what I'm gonna fight for."
O'Dell married to business executive Keith Zubchevich in 2005 and the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Ashby Grace, last June. Zubchevich also has two sons from a previous marriage.